Published in Edinburgh Festivals Magazine
CATRIN EVANS fancied doing a show about the future of our planet. She'd read an article by George Monbiot about the Earth being the ultimate disposable item. She thought that was an interesting premise for a play and wondered if she could tie it in with her obsession with Battlestar Galactica.
This was early 2010 and she was thinking small-scale. Perhaps it would be a one-man show performed in an attic. She got talking to the people from Grid Iron, the Edinburgh theatre company famed for its site-specific shows in airports, department stores and playgrounds. They liked the idea and encouraged her to develop it.
It developed and developed. Before she knew it, Evans was commandeering a major production light years from her original conception. Instead of a low-key performance for a few insiders, Leaving Planet Earth was now a flagship production in the Edinburgh International Festival. Instead of an intimate staging, it would now be performed against the monumental backdrop of the Edinburgh International Climbing Arena in the former Ratho quarry, one of the world's biggest centres of its kind.
Isn't she intimidated? "This is were my dad's sports coaching comes in," she says, looking cheerful and relaxed as she sits in a Glasgow bistro. "He was a rugby player and when I was a youngster, he would always say, 'Play the game not the event.' He loves sport and, although competitive, he doesn't play for glory. The Edinburgh International Festival is, of course, an amazing opportunity, but if we over-think it and start playing for an imagined audience or an imagined idea of ourselves, then we'll kill it."
As her ambitions rocketed, she brought in Lewis Hetherington to work alongside her as writer and director. He too is staying calm in the face of their galactic challenge. "As freelances, we're working on so many projects of such different natures and all of them you have to equally honour," says the Glasgow theatremaker, who spends most of his time working on community education projects and small-scale fringe shows. "You have to bring the same integrity to everything. If I approach things with humour and creativity, then hopefully it will shine through in the work."
Far from being daunted, in fact, the two directors are thrilled by the possibilities opening up to them. "Science-fiction is a genre where you can ask big, existential questions in a playful, imaginative way," says Hetherington.
Evans agrees: "In sci-fi, the imagery is so appealing as an artist. The way in which a million years will pass or they'll jump many light years. There's something so exciting about expecting a reader to take that imaginative leap. You turn the page and you're on a different planet. Theatre can do that. Let's not be scared of making those leaps."
The audience of Leaving Planet Earth will be bussed out from the city centre and cast in the role of colonisers of New Earth. They have left behind an environmentally exhausted planet, bringing with them a hope for the future as well as fond memories of the old place. At the destination, the ground crew hope to have predicted the way the colonisers will adapt to this brave new world. "There are knowns that science can predict, but what are the unpredictable things like human behaviour?" says Evans.
To lend plausibility to the sci-fi conceit, Evans and Hetherington are collaborating with scientists from the University of Edinburgh Centre for Design Informatics. They have developed an interactive bracelet for the audience to wear in their guise as residents of New Earth. "They're looking at the wisdom-of-the-crowd theory," says Hetherington. "It's the idea that if a group of people all guess how much a rhino weighs, the mean average will be pretty much spot on."
For the audience, this will all add to the fun and the sense of being on a space-age adventure. There are serious aspects too, says Evans: "We're challenging some of those narratives about growth and about what individualism means, which is tied up in the question of how we treat our planet."
More than a simple green polemic, however, Leaving Planet Earth takes a broader look at how society functions. "The idea of throwing away a planet when you've used it up has taken on a metaphorical meaning about dealing with your past," says Hetherington. "How do you move forward and how do you get better?"
Whether or not the human race will ever really colonise another planet is something none of us is likely to find out. By raising the possibility, however, Evans thinks she can address more pressing concerns. "The thing we can question is our right to end up on another planet," she says. "The right to have everything is a big theme in society at the moment. I think art can challenge those assumed narratives that are being pumped out all the time."
WHERE & WHEN
Leaving Planet Earth
Edinburgh International Conference Centre, 10–24 August (not 13, 20), 8pm
From £12.50, Tel: 0131 473 2000
© Mark Fisher 2013
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